Dee Estuary Newsletter

1st March 2007
We Need Your Bird Records!
Neston Reed Bed Wardens.
Highlights March 2006 to February 2007.
February Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
Latest Newsletter.

We Need Your 2006 Bird Records!

The following note from Hugh Pulsford is an extract from the Cheshire and Wirral Bird Report 2005:

It is still interesting to note that many good sightings still never make it to the Annual Report. Birdwatchers seem willing to make the effort to publish them on websites and networks yet not submit them to the county database, so they are therefore lost forever. As we come to the final year of the wintering Atlas, having completed the breeding bird surveys, the benefit of recording and reporting should be fundamentally obvious; without the rigours of written records, submitted to the Atlas recorders, the data is useless. Our casual bird sightings are no different, snapshots of Our avifauna at a point in time; it is their collective addition to the county database that makes them meaningful, and of use as part of the historic record. Given we are now so firmly in the electronic age, with even BBRC moving to a paperless system from 2007 onwards, the excuses of time and effort are now irrelevant. The County Rarity Team has been pleased to see an increase in electronically submitted records, and also has noted an increase in the quality and timeliness of submission.
A Hugh Pulsford
 County Recorder.

Just to add to what Hugh has written. It is obviously important to submit records of rare birds, but it is also very important to submit records of common birds - not necessarily details of every Blue Tit you have seen throughout the year but, perhaps, a summary; such as a monthly max for a particular site, an unusually large count or some particularly interesting behaviour. Records of common birds allows us to monitor trends thus highlighting problems with a particular habitat or food supply, or, hopefully, highlighting the success of a scheme such as the Countryside Stewardship Scheme.
Richard Smith (Webmaster of this website and Systematic List Editor of the Cheshire and Wirral Bird Report).

Details of how to submit records for Cheshire and Wirral are given on the Submissions Page.

For Clywd (which includes Flintshire) please submit records to:

Ian M. Spence,
County Bird Recorder,
North East Wales,
Clwyd Bird Recording Group,
43 Blackbrook,
Sychdyn, Mold,
Flintshire, CH7 6LT.

You can obtain a spreadsheet with appropriate headings plus a Gazetteer of place names from Ian, Email:

Alternatively send Ian a spreadsheet with the following column headings:
Species, Date seen, Location, Grid Ref (if possible), Observer, Count, plus any comments.
Don't forget to include your name, address, telephone no. and email.

The Clwyd Bird Recording Group are currently putting together a Clwyd Bird Report incorporating the years 2004 to 2006 and would, therefore, like any 2006 records as soon as possible.

ATLAS RECORDS - Last but not least, those of you who have been taking part in the surveys for the Cheshire and Wirral Bird Atlas please send any outstanding records in by 27th March. 

Voluntary Wardens Needed to Protect Neston Reed Bed

Once again the RSPB are organising voluntary wardening at Neston Reed Bed, the scheme will begin March 26th and run through until the end of May. Wardening will take place each evening in order to protect this important habitat from disturbance. I know in the past this scheme has attracted birders who have realised what a good opportunity this location is for some serious birdwatching with the possibility of seeing migrating Ospreys and Marsh Harriers, large numbers of Little Egrets flying in to roost, Bearded Tits, Hen Harriers, Short-eared Owls and the numerous birds which breed in the reed bed. If you are interested please contact Stuart Taylor ( or Geoff Robinson (, telephone 0151 336 7681.

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Highlights - March 2006 to February 2007

Richard Smith

This website is nine years old this month so it's time to do a review of the past twelve months.

My year started as it finished, with some very high spring tides covering the marshes at Parkgate and Burton. The tide on March 30th 2006 was the highest for 20 years, bringing the sea, and over 20 Water Rails, right over Denhall Lane at Burton. On the same day at Parkgate the BBC were filming for the second series of 'Coast', including some great footage of a Spotted Crake - the program showing birds from both Heswall Shore and Parkgate was shown in November. The high tides resulted in the usual great views of Parkgate specialities such as Hen Harrier, Jack Snipe, Water Rail and Short-eared Owl, along with hundreds of mixed waders and duck. It was particularly pleasing, and somewhat surprising, to see nine Short-eared Owls on February 20th (2007) after almost a total lack of sightings of this charismatic Owl this last winter.

Kestrel picking up a Water Vole from Parkgate Marsh, March 28th 2006, Neil McLaren

The high tide Parkgate Birdwatches are justly renowned by visiting birders, as is the Leach's Petrel passage off the mouth of the estuary in September. Unfortunately this last September didn't produce a single Leach's with just a few seen at the end of August and beginning of  October; this lack of sightings was not unexpected as we were due a poor year after two good ones. But then we got a big surprise! After several days of strong south-west winds in December many Leach's Petrels were blown from their wintering grounds in to the English Channel and Irish Sea. On December 8th, when the wind swung round to the north-west, many of the birds in the Irish Sea ended up in the River Mersey mouth and along the North Wirral coast, Hilbre and Point of Ayr. We had well over 70 birds flying westwards along the North Wirral coast  and 190 were recorded in the Mersey channel between New Brighton and Crosby. To put this in perspective, these were the first December records of Leach's Petrels in Cheshire and Wirral for one hundred years! See Leach's Petrel article.

Leach's Petrels weren't the only good sea birds to be seen over the past twelve months. In March we had 637 Little Gulls past Hilbre in one day and on April 25th there was a very good movement of birds including 350 Gannets, 140 Manx Shearwater and hundreds of auks. A Laughing Gull flew past Hilbre on May 14th, a national rarity. We were surprised by a Sooty Shearwater on the unusual date of May 28th, followed by two more on the more usual dates of August 10th and September 3rd, on the latter date we also had over 200 Manx Shearwaters flying past. It was another good summer for Storm Petrels with 30 off New Brighton the max count in July and 26 at Hilbre the max August count. It was also a good summer for Arctic Skuas, max monthly counts included four at Gronant in June and five off Red Rocks in September. 40 Black Terns flying past Meols on September 13th were a fabulous sight, as were five Pomarine Skuas flying westwards along Hoylake Shore on October 4th. Large numbers of Great Crested Grebes were counted off North Wirral throughout the winter with a count of 378 on November 7th and 458 on February 7th, the latter being the highest ever count for Cheshire & Wirral. Near hurricane force winds in January brought a very unseasonable Common Tern to Hilbre, first January record for Cheshire & Wirral. Common Scoters are very numerous in Liverpool Bay but rarely more than a few tens are seen off the Dee Estuary, so it was pleasing to have counts of 2,000 off Hilbre in October 2006 and 2-3,000 off Point of Ayr on February 3rd and 4th 2007.

Both our tern colonies did well with 160 Little Terns fledged at Gronant and 722 pairs of Common Terns at Shotton, yet another record number.

It was reportedly the warmest autumn and winter on record and no doubt this contributed to the relatively low wader numbers. Warmer springs are probably the reason for Avocets breeding further north but the first successful breeding record for Avocet in the Dee Estuary area was well overdue. The pair at Inner Marsh Farm produced three fledged young. Six Little Stints turned up at the same site on the unusual date of June 11th. Greenshank numbers were low on the English side of the estuary, but they seem to have taken a liking to the new bunded pool on the Connah's Quay Reserve where 30 was max count. A juvenile Curlew Sandpiper spent the whole of this last winter at Inner Marsh Farm, I believe this is the first record of an over-wintering bird in Cheshire & Wirral.

Brent Geese reached over 100 for the second year running with 108 on January 1st. Large flocks of Pink-footed Geese are always a welcome sight passing overhead, a large movement took place in January with at least 6,000 flying over the estuary on their way from Norfolk to Lancashire between January 22nd to 24th. Roosting Little Egrets reached a max of 169 in the autumn; they bred successfully again at Burton. The usual Marsh Harriers and Ospreys passed through the estuary on migration; Hen Harriers continue to make a great sight hunting over the marshes and coming in to roost at Parkgate, we had two ringtail and two sub-adult males most of the winter.

April 2006 was a very good month for rarities; with Subalpine Warbler, Alpine Swift, Chough, Serin, Long-eared Owl and Hoopoe definite sightings with also a possible Dartford Warbler and Wryneck - an exciting month!

Subalpine Warbler - Hilbre, left (Colin Jones ), Alpine Swift - Barnston, middle (Steve Round ) and Long-eared Owl - Leasowe Lighthouse, right  (Steve Round ).

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February Bird News

Three great days of high tides on the 19th, 20th and 21st, with the tide on 20th the highest with the sea coming well over Burton Marsh as well as the marsh at Parkgate. Highlight were nine Short-eared Owl (20th), 9 Water Rail (19th), 200+ Rock Pipit (most Scandinavian Race, 19th), 6 Jack Snipe (20th), 1 Water Pipit (20th), 2 Corn Bunting (20th) and 2 to 3 Hen Harriers, Peregrines and Merlins on all three days. Corn buntings are now quite a rarity on Wirral. Up to four Hen Harriers have been coming in to roost at Parkgate; two ringtail and two sub-adult males.

An excellent place to get good views of Teal and Pintail is in the gutter at Thurstaston and Heswall
These Teal were photographed at Thurstaston Dec 1st, 2006  
Richard Smith

Although average numbers of waders have been generally low this winter we have had some good peak numbers. This month's peaks were: 1,760 Bar-tailed Godwit at Leasowe (14th), 1,250 Grey Plover at Leasowe (14th), 10,000 Knot at Hoylake (4th), 18,400 Dunlin at Hoylake (16th) and 314 Sanderling at Hoylake (16th). There have been a few Spotted Redshank observed with four at Connah's Quay on 18th, singles at Parkgate and Point of Ayr on 20th and five at Inner Marsh Farm RSPB on 25th. A few unseasonable Greenshank included two at Connah's Quay and singles at Heswall and Parkgate. The Curlew Sandpiper is still at Inner Marsh Farm RSPB, as is the Green-winged Teal, although both proved elusive this month. 40 Grey Heron there on 26th was an unusually high number for this species.

Right, Spotted Redshank at Point of Ayr on Feb 20th, Steve Oakes AEBS Ltd.

I have been undertaking voluntary wardening duties at Point of Ayr through the winter, the highlight was undoubtedly the Leach's Petrels in December but the sight of 3,000 Common Scoter in flight off there on 3rd Feb came a close second. But I had another huge seawatch count this month, a remarkable 458 Great Crested Grebes on a flat calm mirror like sea off Meols on 7th, a Cheshire & Wirral all time record high count! Numbers of these grebes have dropped markedly in both the Dee and Mersey Estuaries over the past few years so it is good to know there are still plenty in the area. One to two Snow buntings have been at Point of Ayr all month.

The new bunded pool area at Connah's Quay has certainly proved a huge success, they have had very good numbers of waders there over the past few months and this month they had 22 Gadwall, which is a probable record high count for this site.

What to expect in March

Four more very high spring tides are due this month, including two at 10.4m, the highest of the year (see Forthcoming Events). As usual these tides should result in some great birdwatching. Parkgate is a prime spot for these big tides, but Burton Marsh is also likely to be covered and should be well worth a visit. Don't forget that high tide at Burton may be as much as 30 minutes later than the official Liverpool high tide time.

Apart from the tides March is an exciting month with the first of the Spring migrants arriving. The table below gives the dates of the first arrivals of some of the more common species for the last three years. Don't forget to me with any sightings of early migrants and I'll put it on my latest sightings page.

Species 2006 Location 2005 2004
White Wagtail 19th March Flint 17th March 14th March
Wheatear 23rd March Caldy 16th March 17th March
Swallow 25th March Red Rocks 25th March 18th March
Sand Martin 26th March Shotton 17th March 18th March
House Martin   29th March Leasowe   2nd April 28th March
Willow Warbler 31st March Leasowe 25th March 31st March
Swift 16th April Red Rocks 17th April 20th April
Whitethroat 17th April Leasowe 18th April 15th April
Cuckoo 29th April Leasowe 1st May 3rd May

Early migrants may also include Ospreys, Marsh Harriers and Ring Ouzels. If we get a mild and slightly misty day with wind from the south-east we could get some strong visible migration, particularly early in the morning towards the end of the month - Meadow Pipits are usually the most numerous. Out to sea expect a good passage of Little Gulls, best seen from Hilbre Island. These birds, which spend the winter in the Irish Sea and off southern Europe, make their way to Crosby Marina and Seaforth before flying overland to the North Sea and then onwards to breed around the Baltic, see Migration - Ringed Plover, Little Gull and White Wagtail. The first Sandwich Terns and Gannets of the year should turn up by end of the month.

Many thanks go to Peter Newman, David Haigh, Stephen Ainsworth, Andrew Wallbank, Rob Bithell, Chris Davies, Iain Douglas, David Esther, Neil Atkinson, John Boswell, Geoff Robinson, Bill Owen, Colin Wells, Phil Woollen, Pam Green, Damian Waters, David Hinde, Paul Mason, David Lee, John Roberts, Graham Thompson,  Stuart Taylor, Steve Oakes, Gilbert Bolton, David Harrington, Allan Conlin, Angus Clark, Mike Hart, Mark Feltham, Dave Wild, Mike Gough, Colin Schofield, Steve Round, Steve Williams, Chris Butterworth, Steve Wrigley, Jane Turner, Charles Farnell, Richard Steel, Paul Shenton, John Fisher, Gary Keating, Ian Dyer, Debbie Cameron, Nigel Jarratt, Stephen Menzie, Sylvia Lowe, Yvonne Taylor, Ian Williams, the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during February.  All sightings are gratefully received.

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Forthcoming Events

March Highest Spring Tides (Liverpool), also see Tides page.
19th March, 11.21hrs 10.1m. GMT.
20th March, 12.04hrs 10.4m. GMT.
21st March, 12.44hrs 10.4m. GMT.
22nd March, 13.26hrs 10.1m. GMT.

Forthcoming Events (organised by the Wirral Ranger Service, Flintshire Countryside Service and/or the RSPB):
All these events and walks have bird interest, even those not advertised specifically for birdwatching. No need to book for these events unless specified - please check below.

Sunday 4th March  6.30am - 9.30am. Mad March Hares.
Join the Rangers on a guided walk to search for Brown Hares in the fields surrounding the Wirral Way. If we're lucky we may get to see 'boxing' between males and females. Please bring warm waterproof clothing, stout footwear and binoculars if you have them. This event is suitable for the whole family to enjoy. Booking essential, ring 0151 648 4371.

Sunday 11th March 5pm, Parkgate Raptor Watch.
Watch the elegant hen harriers come in to roost on the RSPB reserve at Parkgate. Other birds we hope to see include merlin, peregrine, sparrowhawk, short-eared owl and barn owl. Meet at the Old Baths car park, which overlooks the Dee Estuary RSPB reserve at Parkgate, close to the Boathouse pub.

Monday 19th March 10:00am, Parkgate Birdwatch.
High tide at Parkgate is the best time to discover the hidden treasures of RSPB Dee Estuary reserve. If the tide reaches the wall, small mammals such as voles, shrews and possibly water rails are flushed out. Meet at the Old Baths car park overlooking the Dee Estuary Reserve at Parkgate, close to The Boathouse pub (HW 11:21 10.1m).
For details contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681. No need to book.

Tuesday 20th March 10:30am, Parkgate Birdwatch.
Another chance to learn about the birdlife of this important saltmarsh reserve. If the tide is high enough flocks of waders will be joined by raptors such as peregrines, hen harriers and short-eared owls. (HW 12:00, 10.4m). For details contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Wednesday 21st March 11:00am, Parkgate Birdwatch.
High tide at Parkgate is the best time to discover the hidden treasures of the Dee Estuary RSPB reserve. If the tide reaches the wall, small mammals such as voles, shrews and possibly water rails are flushed out. Meet at the Old Baths car park overlooking the Dee Estuary Reserve at Parkgate, close to The Boat House pub (HW 12:44, 10.4m). For details contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Sunday 25th March, 6,30am - 9.30am. Naturewatch Series: Woodland wildlife.
This Naturewatch walk focuses on our woodlands and their rich wildlife. We will be looking for woodpeckers, owls and early wildflowers. Please wear warm waterproof clothing and stout footwear; bring binoculars if you have them. Sorry no dogs. Booking essential, 0151 648 4371.

NOTE: Many of these forthcoming events are extracted from the 'Birdwatchers Diary 2007', which covers both the Dee and Mersey regions. Hard copies available from the visitor centre at Thurstaston, Wirral Country Park 0151 648 4371.

All material in this newsletter, and indeed the whole web site, has been written by myself, Richard Smith, unless specified.

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